Difference Between a Mechanical Engineer & a Chemical Engineer

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Chemical and mechanical are two branches of engineering.
Chemical and mechanical are two branches of engineering. (Image: Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

In the engineering world, there are far more mechanical engineers than chemical engineers. People in many different engineering specialties such as aerospace engineering may also have mechanical engineering degrees. Mechanical engineers often focus on creation and testing of tools and machinery, whereas chemical engineers study and create products based on chemical interactions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both professions have roughly the same number of employees with master's degrees -- about a fourth.

What They Specialize In

Mechanical engineers research, design and help manufacture and test mechanical devices such as tools and machines like internal combustion engines, farm equipment, elevators and refrigeration devices. This is the broadest discipline of engineering, according to the BLS. Chemical engineers use chemical principles -- how chemicals interact and act on other substances -- to design and produce commercial and industrial chemical compounds, pharmaceuticals, clothing and food, and synthetic goods.

Where They Work

Chemical engineers work mostly in industries such as scientific research and development, basic chemical manufacturing, manufacturing of resin, synthetic rubber and synthetic fiber, and pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing. Mechanical engineers work mostly in architecture and other services and scientific research and development. They also commonly work in the federal executive branch, aerospace products and parts manufacture, and the manufacture of control instruments in the navigational, measuring and electromedical fields.

What They Earn

Chemical engineers generally earn more than mechanical engineers. In 2010, the median annual wage for chemical engineers was $90,300. Mechanical engineers earned a median annual wage of $78,160. In 2009, starting salary for a chemical engineer was $64,902 whereas the starting salary for a mechanical engineer was $58,766, according to the BLS.

Job Prospects

While chemical engineers earn more, there are fewer of them and the number is expected to decline by two percent over the 2008-2018 decade. The number of chemical engineers employed in 2008 was 31,700. There were 238,700 mechanical engineers in 2008 and that number is expected to increase by six percent.

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